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American Originality: Essays on Poetry

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A luminous collection of essays from one of our most original and influential poets Five decades after her debut poetry collection, Firstborn, Louise Glück is a towering figure in American letters. Written with the same probing, analytic control that has long distinguished her poetry, American Originality is Glücks second book of essaysher first, Proofs and Theories, won A luminous collection of essays from one of our most original and influential poets Five decades after her debut poetry collection, Firstborn, Louise Glück is a towering figure in American letters. Written with the same probing, analytic control that has long distinguished her poetry, American Originality is Glück’s second book of essays—her first, Proofs and Theories, won the 1993 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. Glück’s moving and disabusing lyricism is on full display in this decisive new collection. From its opening pages, American Originality forces readers to consider contemporary poetry and its demigods in radical, unconsoling, and ultimately very productive ways. Determined to wrest ample, often contradictory meaning from our current literary discourse, Glück comprehends and destabilizes notions of “narcissism” and “genius” that are unique to the American literary climate. This includes erudite analyses of the poets who have interested her throughout her own career, such as Rilke, Pinsky, Chiasson, and Dobyns, and introductions to the first books of poets like Dana Levin, Peter Streckfus, Spencer Reece, and Richard Siken. Forceful, revealing, challenging, and instructive, American Originality is a seminal critical achievement.


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A luminous collection of essays from one of our most original and influential poets Five decades after her debut poetry collection, Firstborn, Louise Glück is a towering figure in American letters. Written with the same probing, analytic control that has long distinguished her poetry, American Originality is Glücks second book of essaysher first, Proofs and Theories, won A luminous collection of essays from one of our most original and influential poets Five decades after her debut poetry collection, Firstborn, Louise Glück is a towering figure in American letters. Written with the same probing, analytic control that has long distinguished her poetry, American Originality is Glück’s second book of essays—her first, Proofs and Theories, won the 1993 PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction. Glück’s moving and disabusing lyricism is on full display in this decisive new collection. From its opening pages, American Originality forces readers to consider contemporary poetry and its demigods in radical, unconsoling, and ultimately very productive ways. Determined to wrest ample, often contradictory meaning from our current literary discourse, Glück comprehends and destabilizes notions of “narcissism” and “genius” that are unique to the American literary climate. This includes erudite analyses of the poets who have interested her throughout her own career, such as Rilke, Pinsky, Chiasson, and Dobyns, and introductions to the first books of poets like Dana Levin, Peter Streckfus, Spencer Reece, and Richard Siken. Forceful, revealing, challenging, and instructive, American Originality is a seminal critical achievement.

30 review for American Originality: Essays on Poetry

  1. 4 out of 5

    Ken

    Glück's essays on poems are not new as expected, but collected from old publications, chiefly The Threepenny Review. I also expected, like Matthew Zapruder's Why Poetry, these would be of interest not only to readers of poetry, but writers of poetry. Turns out, not so much. One entire section, for instance, consists of introductions Glück wrote to poetry contest winner's books in contests she served as judge. Ten of them. In a book of 20 essays. I don't know why these were less compelling to me, Glück's essays on poems are not new as expected, but collected from old publications, chiefly The Threepenny Review. I also expected, like Matthew Zapruder's Why Poetry, these would be of interest not only to readers of poetry, but writers of poetry. Turns out, not so much. One entire section, for instance, consists of introductions Glück wrote to poetry contest winner's books in contests she served as judge. Ten of them. In a book of 20 essays. I don't know why these were less compelling to me, but they were. If, once you're into the essay, you find the excerpts of the poet's work are of little interest, what's a reader to do? Trudge on? Skim? Lou, lou, skip to the next essay's lou? You see the problem. Hats off to Glück, however, for her introduction to this section. She claims she took a pass on reading pre-screened entrants' works only and read ALL OF THEM because she thought it was only right. Wow. That's character. Ten-star character. Louise, I salute you! Finally, I admit that the diction and the vocabulary were, at times, like something my academic professors would assign. Assiduous. Challenging. Head-scratching. Just when I thought I was ready for any big-boy book thrown at me, too. Sigh. Back to my poetry primers, I guess....

  2. 4 out of 5

    Alex O'Brien

    I have yet to read Louise Gluck's poetry, but I will be ordering her collection. Her essays and criticism in 'American Originality' are informed by great intelligence, sensitivity, and insight. I found the first section of essays on contemporary poetry very confusing-the essays perhaps more abstruse than much of what passes for contemporary poetry these days. Section two was more accessible and I was becoming used to her high but abstract erudition. Section three was the highlight for me: the I have yet to read Louise Gluck's poetry, but I will be ordering her collection. Her essays and criticism in 'American Originality' are informed by great intelligence, sensitivity, and insight. I found the first section of essays on contemporary poetry very confusing-the essays perhaps more abstruse than much of what passes for contemporary poetry these days. Section two was more accessible and I was becoming used to her high but abstract erudition. Section three was the highlight for me: the introductions Gluck wrote for ten prize winning books of poetry she chose as judge. Gluck is an exceptionally generous, articulate, and creative reviewer, praising and analyzing the poems with a high level of insight and knowledge. It would be wonderful to be a young poet and have her choose and praise your first book. Does anyone else enjoy reading reviews of books of poetry without having read the books beforehand or even other works by the poet? I love it-such reviews are often filled with interesting descriptions of literary theory, philosophy, psychology, art, and poetics. I sometimes think I like reading about poetry more than reading the poetry itself. In section four Gluck gets more personal and the book concludes with an essay espousing the virtues of happiness and well-being to the poetic life. I tend to agree with her. It was a pleasure to read 'American Originality' and I will have to go back and read her first collection of essays 'Proofs and Theories' sometime too.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Antonio Delgado

    Glücks essays are insightful even when the reader doesn't recognize the mentioned poets. However, the first essays promise a sense of unity that the collection does not hold. That is for sure an unfair judgment. After all, the essays are mostly about contemporary American poets and the possible challenges of current American poetry. A book to return to after all. Glück’s essays are insightful even when the reader doesn't recognize the mentioned poets. However, the first essays promise a sense of unity that the collection does not hold. That is for sure an unfair judgment. After all, the essays are mostly about contemporary American poets and the possible challenges of current American poetry. A book to return to after all.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Brandon Amico

    Louise Gluck remains one of the most potent minds in literature, and this collection of essays further cements that status. She pulls apart the threads that contemporary poetry is sewn with with an eye that is careful, cutting, but generous. Gluck does a wonderful job in this collection of showing that the context of poetry being written--country, culture, science, familial realities--is just as important as the content of the poem itself. One essay in particualr, "Ersatz Thought," is remarkable Louise Gluck remains one of the most potent minds in literature, and this collection of essays further cements that status. She pulls apart the threads that contemporary poetry is sewn with with an eye that is careful, cutting, but generous. Gluck does a wonderful job in this collection of showing that the context of poetry being written--country, culture, science, familial realities--is just as important as the content of the poem itself. One essay in particualr, "Ersatz Thought," is remarkable in what it achieves, which is a thoughtful argument against the void, the unknowable being invoked in poetry as a way of seeming profound without actually reaching some kind of profound insight. Gluck has taken things that could only be said in poetry and translated them back to us in essay form. Should be required reading for anyone interested in or learning about poetry.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    About as dense as it gets, but Gluck's perspective on poetry and artistry are well-refined and from a seasoned expert. The book fluctuates between her personal and very intellectual views on poetry as a practice and art form, to some of her reviews of other people's poetry from when she was a judge of several competitions/awards. They are well written and include some truly fantastic poetry with useful explanations you are unlikely to see anywhere else. The only thing stopping me from giving this About as dense as it gets, but Gluck's perspective on poetry and artistry are well-refined and from a seasoned expert. The book fluctuates between her personal and very intellectual views on poetry as a practice and art form, to some of her reviews of other people's poetry from when she was a judge of several competitions/awards. They are well written and include some truly fantastic poetry with useful explanations you are unlikely to see anywhere else. The only thing stopping me from giving this more stars is that sometimes Glucks thoughts can be so abstract and dense that I have a hard time imagining anyone knows what she is getting at.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ben G

    I appreciate that Glück isn't compelled to write essays that often. She's invested in poetry and how it connects to other parts of society, giving this a streamlined, cohesive scope. I didn't necessarily need the collection of front-matter for poetry prize winners, but the other essays get in, make their point, and get out, sometimes positive, sometimes negative, often with a nice touch of acid.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michelle

    Louise Glück has long influenced the way I write and read poetry. This collection of essays is a complex and challenging look at the work that has influenced her and the "new poets" who have caught her attention.

  8. 5 out of 5

    max

    The titular essay was provocative but too short. I felt I have enough context to understand her themes and grasp at her core ideas, but I fear those who spend less time reading contemporary poetry will find this essay and many others in this collection slightly spacey, filled with huge generalizations, and overly specific to Gluck's own internal world of taste and preference. Too many times, Gluck will go on the record when praising a contemporary, but generalize and avoid pointing fingers when The titular essay was provocative but too short. I felt I have enough context to understand her themes and grasp at her core ideas, but I fear those who spend less time reading contemporary poetry will find this essay and many others in this collection slightly spacey, filled with huge generalizations, and overly specific to Gluck's own internal world of taste and preference. Too many times, Gluck will go on the record when praising a contemporary, but generalize and avoid pointing fingers when criticizing. Without specifics, her concerns about contemporary poetry are murky and lack the insight and clarity that she grants when she celebrates a poet she admires. In particular, her essay on Pinksy and Dobyns--a odd pairing, to be sure--was my favorite of the book. She focuses on how these poets use elements of narrative technique to subvert and expand the lyric form. Too much of this book was given over to introductions Gluck wrote in her capacity as a contest judge of book manuscripts. One of the uglier things about poetry today is the way aspiring poets are charged $35 entry fees to have their manuscripts read by famous names, redistributing money from the poorest and least accomplished to the richest and most established. Some contests have been shown to be corrupt, with judges anointing winners without even reading the entries. All lack transparency and the rigor of true peer review. Like the MFA program, something here is deeply amiss. Gluck is implicated in this mess, and this book evinces a deep lack of awareness that the system is flawed.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Donald

    There is a lot of filler in this book, and none of the writing in here is new. The mini-essay on Mann and all the Yale poetry prize introductions should not have been included, and I recommend you skip them. The essays from the Threepenny Review are splendid. Glück writes not as a scholar or critic but as a working poet, and if writing poetry matters to you at all, you will learn a lot from her. Glück's essays are polemics but not in the style of polemics, and they offer glimpses of a way out of There is a lot of filler in this book, and none of the writing in here is new. The mini-essay on Mann and all the Yale poetry prize introductions should not have been included, and I recommend you skip them. The essays from the Threepenny Review are splendid. Glück writes not as a scholar or critic but as a working poet, and if writing poetry matters to you at all, you will learn a lot from her. Glück's essays are polemics but not in the style of polemics, and they offer glimpses of a way out of the sorrowful predicament contemporary poetry has got itself into.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Crystal

    I skipped the section of forewords to her selections for a couple of book prizes. That whole section just felt like unnecessary padding. I largely never connected with the poets she used in her essays (there is a definite lack of diversity in all but the forewords section) but appreciated the essay on narcissism.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Romany Arrowsmith

    Good ideas, zero clarity

  12. 4 out of 5

    Eric

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie

  14. 5 out of 5

    Subhajit Das

  15. 5 out of 5

    Joseph

  16. 4 out of 5

    Fm Shipp

  17. 4 out of 5

    Dominique Santos

  18. 4 out of 5

    Frances King

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jen

  20. 5 out of 5

    Allen

  21. 5 out of 5

    Peter

  22. 5 out of 5

    Simeon Berry

  23. 4 out of 5

    Emma

  24. 5 out of 5

    Matt Dalton

  25. 5 out of 5

    Jacobsorkin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sunita

  27. 4 out of 5

    Damian Fallon

  28. 4 out of 5

    Mitochondria

  29. 5 out of 5

    Laurence Li

  30. 5 out of 5

    Jeff

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